Words by Ed King / Pics by Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media)
One of the great things about The Flyover Show is the roof. Sounds odd, but as I stare out of my bathroom window at sheets of early morning rain knowing I’ll be spending the rest of the day with the B4100 as an urban canopy is somewhat of a comfort.
Luckily by lunchtime the skies have settled into a dry, battleship grey, with splashes of sun and good humour – archetypal English event weather. And as the background sounds of DJ Winchester welcome us on to the curiously effective event site, the concrete concourse that connects the underpasses of Hockley Circus (underneath the eponymous ‘flyover’) the day begins to take shape.
Soweto Kinch’s ‘one-day festival of music, art & dance’ has been out of action since 2012, when around 6,000 people came through the Maxi Priest headlined line up, and it’s eventual return is both welcome and precarious.
A week is a long time in ‘small p’ politics, and to be off the funded event calendar for nearly half a decade is arguable suicide; the big thing hanging over The Flyover Show 2016 – other than two lanes of asphalt – is if it can win back its supremely supportive crowd.
Since its inaugural event in 2008 The Flyover Show has fostered a safe, friendly and diverse audience – with a clear mandate “challenging the preconceptions surrounding the area, showing that community and culture can thrive in all corners of our city’s heart.” But four years without a sound… if you build it again, will they come back?
The first live performance comes from the six strings and sultry tones of Affie Jam – a local singer/songwriter with more to offer than most. Everyone’s giving it their all, on stage and off; as the line up unfurls The Flyover Show’s curator and creator – Soweto Kinch – parades the open event site with an infectious call to arms, like a mix between the pied piper and Mos Def.
The event doors have just opened and it’s a little thin on the ground, with most of the early birds perched on the slanted cobbles tones that adorn this accidental amphitheatre. Kinch marches on, it’s hard to ignore or resist; The Flyover Show has always relied on more than just bodies to fill out the empty pockets on site.
Black Circle kick start the full band performances, and introduce the first flavours of reggae that will culminate in this year’s headline – the legendary within certain circles guitarist, Ernest Ranglin.
Ranglin has an impressive portfolio, having played with many jazz and reggae greats, alongside running both Studio One and Island Records back in the days when you would really want those jobs. And at 83 the man is on his ‘Farewell Tour’ – playing a litany of high profile events including Glastonbury Festival, The Barbican, Montreux jazz festival, Istanbul Jazz Festival… and now The Flyover Show.
It’s a coup for Birmingham. But to see this artist at a free, community focused event (as opposed to a bank breaking bill at the Symphony Hall) is another feather in The Flyover Show’s cap.
As well as breaking the media myths Handsworth, Lozells and Hockley are so often hung drawn and quartered with, Soweto Kinch set up the annual event to “break down these constraints of culture and class, and brings world renowned acts right into the heart of our community.” With Ernest Ranglin headlining The Flyover Show 2016, this particular arrow has arguably never been closer to its mark.
Call Me Unique is next on stage, performing tracks from her soon to be released Urban Gypsy EP. Strong, confident and engaging, Call Me Unique is a solid performer – with a developed edge coming out in her new material.
The Flyover Show crowd, many of whom have grown up, with and around the Handsworth based singer/songwriter (Call Me Unique lives round the corner, and has done everything from street flyering to broadcast interviews to help promote The Flyover Show) and it’s another of the day’s welcome sights to see her on stage.
Call Me Unique’s set introduces a further series of local artists, including TrueMendous, Trope, RTKal, Deci4life and Juice Aleem – performing mainly hip hop focused sets, with rhyme and verse holding a firm grip over the growing audience (it’s heading into late afternoon and there’s about 700 people here now). Some technical difficulties bring the running order into sharp light, but allow for more on stage banter from the section of the line up with a closer bond to Birmingham. Shout outs are given, given back, and a feeling of warm familiarity flows on and off stage.
Eska Mtungwazi, or Eska for short, ushers in the headline acts – coming on stage as the late August light starts to dip into early evening. A stalwart performer, Eska’s rising balloon saw her as a highlight of the recent Mostly Jazz festival – with her sonorous delivery and rich melodies now rippling across concrete and crowd at The Flyover Show 2016. It’s (she’s) pretty spectacular, and steps up the on stage flair in time for Basil Gabbidon and his band; brass and bright strings washing a wave of Birmingham reggae out across the crowd.
As Gabbidon and company strut through their set, it all gets a little carnival; with a mouth of pipping hot jerk chicken I join the dancing front rows. But as the lights on stage come up, and those above us come down, it’s time for the headline act – Ernest Ranglin has entered the building… well, municipal urban concourse, but you get the adage.
Dub riffs and decades of confidence ooze off stage, as the crowd dutifully drag themselves into the barriers and shoulder drop skank. I didn’t know about Ernest Ranglin before seeing him on the bill for The Flyover Show 2016, but you can tell almost instantly that you’re watching an artist of serious intent and caliber. The rest of the crowd gets this too – and show a reassuring appreciation to the man who agreed to play the event due to the audience it attracts. “I might get too warmed up, but I think I’ll be alright,” Ranglin jokes to the crowd – who have, by this penultimate point, grown to well over 1000.
Ranglin’s set is a joy to watch, and I suspect the people on stage are having just as much fun (maybe more) than those dancing at the front. Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson have been touring with Ranglin, but still seem in appreciative awe that their on stage with the man.
Then, in a suitably special finale, Basil Gabbidon comes back on stage for a final thank you performance; the atmosphere is thick with pride, respect and camaraderie, and it’s a little hard not to feel like you’re watching something special. And that you’re part of it.
After running a little late (the line up warrants an adventurous approach to on-stage logistics) The Flyover Show hangs up its hat at around 9pm – with the families and friends that made up the day’s crowd standing strong since about 3pm. The champion returns. The Flyover Show 2016 has been a resounding success, with any fears of torrential downpours and apathetic crowds being dispelled by mid afternoon.
Birmingham has seen a recent redaction of events that celebrate black culture, as well as burning a few cultural bridges between potentially disparate communities – The Drum has closed, Simmer Down has folded and Birmingham Carnival is on a sabbatical. So the return of The Flyover Show could not be more box tickingly pertinent – with arts funding and council representatives needing something to show ‘diversity’.
But the success of The Flyover Show, what made it, developed it and what has reintroduced it nearly five years since its last outing, is the crowd. A cliché perhaps, but it’s the people off stage that really make this event – responding to what is being brought on stage with a sense of pride and ownership.
It works, it worked before and it has worked again, and as I pack up to go home – still early enough to have some light to see me up Great Hampton Street, I circle one sentence in thick bold.
‘Proud of our crowd’.
Then I add, ‘already excited about The Flyover Show 2017.’ And I don’t think I’m the only one.
For more on The Flyover Show, visit www.facebook.com/TheFlyoverShow
For more on UPRIZE-CIC, visit www.uprize-cic.com
For more on Soweto Kinch, visit www.soweto-kinch.com